Coedited by E. C. Osondu and William Pierce
This landmark gathering of stories from Djibouti, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, the Gambia, and elsewhere creates an unexpected portrait of the African continent—political, sexual, religious, commercial, and literary—by writers such as Abdourahman A. Waberi, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Helon Habila, Doreen Baingana, Chuma Nwokolo, Jr., and Monica Arac de Nyeko. The portfolio connects AGNI’s two venues: half of the stories appearing in AGNI 72, the fall 2010 print issue, and half here at AGNI Online. Scroll down and click to begin reading, and subscribe to the print magazine to have access to the entire set!
“When it was Tommy’s turn, the packed hall appeared to sway to the breeze sent forth by his agbada. I noticed him rummaging in his bag, taking out items and slipping them under the huge gown. Rising to his feet with a song—the other panelists had spoken sitting down—he danced to the center of the room. From beneath the commodious dress he pulled a conga drum the size of a tambourine, and I watched, amazed, as he beat out a tune, which steadily increased in tempo until his bare hands on the drum became one with the applause rising from the audience. Then he stopped, and the moment the clapping ceased I turned on my tape recorder, placing it on the floor close to where he stood. This was news.”
Doreen Baingana, The Anointed
“Her voice is an angry drone of bees. Her stare is the sun—relentless. Her arms sway like the leaves up above. Her song is shrill. Her dusty feet fight the ground, stamp it down. Relieved of her sin, she takes on theirs. It is heavy, heavy. She hears more shouts. It is she. The Holy Spirit, filling her body like how Waragi soaked her every pore. Hallelujah. She falls. The ground catches her. The crowd steps back, all together, a wave, hands over their mouths, hands grabbing their children, hands reaching behind to steady themselves.”
Ogaga Ifowodo, The Treasonable Parrot
“He’d done everything he could think of, from gently questioning to plucking five of its tail feathers, but the parrot had kept its beak firmly closed. At first he found its eerie stillness curious and understandable. After all, this austere underground bunker was a far cry from Chief Okotie’s sumptuous parlor. But it wasn’t long before this feeling gave way to irritation and, finally, boiling anger. The bird, rather than answer questions, continued to stare unblinkingly at the bill of his service cap. What was it on the cap that so fascinated the plotting parrot? When he removed the cap, the parrot kept its piercing gaze on his glistening forehead. Colonel Akalo sensed himself unhinging.”
“I opened the back door, then descended the stairs by myself, carrying the bucket of water slowly down. On the grass, I pulled the bucket toward the umbrella tree. I wasn’t sure if the men were paying attention to me, but I knew they had seen me. I knew this because they stopped for a moment and then continued. They continued basking in the splendor of my mother’s backyard.
“On the grass, I was worried that I might decide to run away. But those were bad thoughts, I knew, thoughts from the fearful voice in my head. I pulled my bucket farther. As soon as I sensed I was too anxious to go on, I lifted. It was heavy but not as heavy as I had expected it to be. I directed the bucket toward the umbrella tree, then I poured and ran.”
“I remember nights before I left for school when the Harbinger’s car would drive in and wives and children would stiffen, immobilized, until it stopped in front of a house and I could hear the wife and children break out in loud wailing before the news was even given.
“I remember also how those who had been spared the bad news would stumble indoors, relieved yet unable to feel any joy, because every new death was a reminder of how easily it could have been them.”
Chika Unigwe, Saving Agu’s Wife
“He has a beautiful voice. No. He had a beautiful voice. Deep. Like Barry White’s. Meant for serenading (and indeed he had done a bit of singing) but having been through what they have, it has developed a jarring roughness. These days, he always sounds angry. And really who could blame him? But she has suffered too. He must not forget that. She has suffered as much as he has. Come to think of it, they all have. Every one of them in that overcrowded sitting room with its mismatched chairs and wooden crates that serve as side tables; every one of them drinking out of the jam jars she washes out has suffered. No one can claim a monopoly on suffering. Certainly not Agu.”
“Oboh Epadinpadin Oke threw the Ogwega in the air and it landed farther away than he intended. He dragged it closer to him with his bony fingers, then gazed at the formations of the cowries and read the signs. All the cowries lay face down, every single one of them. Having followed my Odede long enough, I knew this meant something serious—like death. The native doctor’s face twitched furiously and his mouth contorted, it was not a good sign for sure, the cowries were not supposed to all lie face down. Not satisfied yet with what he saw, he threw the cowries into the air higher than before and again they landed like a squirrel shot down from a tree.”
Helon Habila, The Iron Gate
“At such moments the men’s longing to get in, to be a part of this paradise, will become intolerable, their eyes will glaze with fever, and they will throw themselves at the beckoning space, moaning with their million unnamed hopes, only to be forced back by the gates closing and the guards rapping at their hands and shoulders with their sticks. Then they will stare again at this huge iron barrier, measuring its towering barbed-wired height, as if readying themselves to scale it. But after a while the fever will leave their eyes and their shoulders will slump and their steps will drag as they mill about with tired determination. And the melee will form again as another car passes.”
Dayo Forster, from Whosoever Fears the Sea
“They left into the sober dark of a Lamu night, and Ali had the remaining questions ready on his tongue.
“‘Are you saying that if a boat sinks, it doesn’t matter whether the people in it can swim?’
“‘It depends where the boat is. If it’s very far from land, it really does not matter, does it? No one will find you and rescue you because it’s too far from shore.’
“‘But if you can swim, at least you can try. It’s better than just sinking with the boat straightaway, isn’t it?’
“‘Ali, you do ask some right old questions. What I am saying is that when something is decreed for your life, you can try your hardest but you can’t change it.’”
“You lay idly on the concrete surface of the township’s sewerage tanks, conjuring the life that awaited you in the suburbs. You would live in a big house. With a big yard. Hot water would spurt at will out of hot water taps. The taps were lodged inside the house, not like in the township where water taps were perched outside and poured out water so cold you could hardly drink it in the morning. And, Tomana added while squatting in the dust playing tsoro, the water that gushed from those taps in the suburbs could only be pink. It was true, he said, nodding nonchalantly, his older brother Moses had been to the suburbs: he knew all about it. He had seen it with his own eyes.”
Chuma Nwokolo, Jr., Sentencing for Six
“He looked good—for someone who’d taken the worst I had to throw over the past hour—I had to admit. Was this how he wooed, then: cheap drinks and background music, after the intimacy of forced sex? All my feeble scratches and pathetic bites were now under the radar, covered by T-shirt and jeans. I fought a sudden desire to curl up and sleep. My own muscles were pulverized mutton. The wound of my shame would never heal; for the rest, I would need to sleep for a week to recover.”
She knew what he wanted. She held on tighter to the newspaper.
‘Let me finish reading this,’ she whispered.
But on this night, Thato did not relent. Nor did Sethunya give in to his insistence. She braced herself for the words that she knew would follow. ‘When I paid bogadi to marry you, I expected a wife who understood what was expected of a wife. You would cook for me and make a home for me, give me a son.’”
Imraan Coovadia, The Institute for Taxi Poetry
“In Cape Town things basically happened person to person. If you were young and ambitious, either you had the luck to run into your equivalent of Solly Greenfields, who would instruct you in his spare time out of love for the field, or you didn’t run into him and you stayed a sliding-door man all your life. It was as simple and harsh as that. Most of our talent, which was more precious by the ounce than all the gold and platinum, fell into nooks and crevices where it would never be recovered and never be permitted to declare itself to the world.”
“Fegge was a riverside neighborhood-town on the banks of the Niger, and it was one of the first places that European explorers and missionaries, such as Mungo Park and Father Shanahan, had arrived in. They had brought with them a new kind of trade and religion, and both commerce and Catholicism had quickly grown roots. The riverfront warehouses of G. B. Ollivant, the steel doors of Barclay’s Bank, the dome of St Peter’s Cathedral—named after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome—and the legend of John Stuart Young, who had sided with locals against other English merchants, were some of the wonders and stories that I grew up with. So were the masquerades that seemed to emerge from antediluvian dawns at Easter, Independence Day, and Christmas. Those masquerades fascinated me even more than the money doublers and St Peter’s Cathedral, which had in part inspired my name. Everything seemed to converge in our neighborhood. Fegge was the crossroads of the world.”
Henrietta Rose-Innes, Homing
“The deckchairs were Ray’s idea, his way of making peace with the new lay of the land. But for Nona, although she took her place next to him in the evenings, the resentment did not fade. Every glance at the bland pink wall was a small humiliation. She wondered if there were wealthy guests already in the rooms, behind the glare of the windows: German tourists, Brits, Americans. She stared at the panes quite frankly, confident that no one was looking back. Those windows were not watchful eyes. They were more like expensive sunglasses: whoever was behind them wouldn’t care to gaze down on Nona and Ray.”
A. Igoni Barrett, Love Is Power, Or Something Like That
“Eghobamien Adrawus leaned against the wall and jammed his hands into his trouser pockets. He looked at Mfonobong’s back. He knew this game. He knew how it would end. He had watched this scene too many times. He no longer thought about interfering, so even the thrill he used to get from his power over fate—to stop it or let it happen, to save or not to save—was gone.”
Abdourahman A. Waberi,
SOMEWHERE CLOSE TO THE START OF THE GAME (FOOSBALL)
(translated from the French by David and Nicole Ball)
“An atmosphere of insurrection reigns at the gates of the little coastal town. Any argument is a pretext for throwing oil on the flames. Coca-Cola and Fanta are seen as symbols of foreign subversion, the armed branch of the Crusaders and non-natives who are sucking the country’s blood. Pepsi and Mirinda turn out to be authentic, native products, introduced by a son of our nomad country. The people will recognize its own even in the depths of night.